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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of general lower secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.1Organisation of general lower secondary education

Last update: 17 June 2022

Types of Institutions

Lower secondary schools are called collèges. They are the only institutions for this ISCED level, and all pupils having completed their primary education pursue their studies within a collège

According to articles L421-1 to L421-25 of the French Code of Education, collèges are Établissements Publics Locaux d'Enseignement (EPLE - local public-sector schools), a category of public institutions controlled by the Department for National Education, Higher Education and Research. As such, they are legal entities and have an administrative, financial and educational autonomy, within the limits set out by legislative and regulatory texts.

The Board of administration - the institution's decision-making body - on recommendations by the principal - the school head - sets the principle governing the teaching and educational autonomy of the institution and the rules of its organisation. It adopts the budget and the school project.

Départements are responsible for the material operation of collèges: construction and maintenance of buildings, school transport, subsidies for equipment, recruitment and management of technical staff, etc.

Geographical Accessibility

According to articles D211-10 and D211-11 of the Code of Education, académies are divided into sectors and districts. Sectors are the catchment area for collèges. These articles also stipulate that a sector should have one single public collège, except in specific geographic conditions. In rural zones, the sector consists of several municipalities: the municipality that hosts the collège is called the "chef-lieu du secteur" (main town of the sector). In urban zones, the sector of a collège is often limited to a fraction of the municipality.

However, since 2013, when it improves the social mix into schooling institutions, a sector may be shared among multiple public collèges if they are situated in the same responsibility area of the local authority that manages school transports.

School transport is organised and funded for every collège by local authorities, which define its specific rules.

Admission Requirements and choice of school

Admission requirements

All children that have completed primary school are rightfully admitted to collège in their twelfth year at the latest. There are two ways to enrol in a collège:

Moreover, adapted teaching is organised to train pupils experiencing serious and sustainable school difficulties, either within collèges, in Sections d’Enseignement Général et Professionnel Adapté (SEGPA - professional adapted education sections); or within Établissements Régionaux d'Enseignement Adapté (EREA - regional adapted teaching institutions ). 

Pupils admitted in SEGPAs by decision of the académie director after agreement of the parents or the legal representative and confirmation by the département's guidance committee. This committee is chaired by the académie director and consists of members of the inspection team, management personnel, teachers, parents' representatives the département's technical medical consultant, the département 's technical social worker, a school psychologist, a child psychiatrist, etc.

In principle, SEGPA classes should not have more than 16 pupils. Assistant directors in charge of SEGPAs draft an annual appraisal of pupils which is notified to parents. If the institution or family wishes to review the proposal, the appraisal is transferred to the commission for its opinion. The académie inspectorate then takes a decision. 

Établissements régionaux d'enseignement adapté (EREA - regional adapted education institutions) are local public-sector schools designed to take charge of teenagers showing very serious academic and social difficulties or disability. Pupils are oriented and recommanded towards EREA by:

  • the commission des droits et de l'autonomie des personnes handicapées (CDA - commission for the rights and autonomy of disabled persons) for pupils with a motor or sensory disability;
  • the commission départementale d'orientation vers les enseignements adaptés du second degré (CDO - département's guidance commission towards adapted secondary education) for pupils showing serious and long-term academic difficulties.

Choice of School 

In public institutions, the pupil will be assigned, by the académie inspector, to the collège of the sector linked to his house after the decision taken regarding the child’s progression by the teachers’ council of the primary school.

After this assignment, exemption may be asked by families to the académie inspectorate. Demands are processed following criteria that favour pupils with physical disabilities, pupils with a heavy medical treatment and pupils that need to be in a particular stream, taking into account the number of available positions in institutions.

Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils

Collège education lasts four years, corresponding to Sixième, Cinquième, Quatrième and Troisième classes. The student normally enters Sixième at the age of 11, and enters Troisième at the age of 14.

Since the 2016 academic year, collège levels are now only distributed on two cycles: the first cycle (Cycle 3, the consolidation cycle) straddles primary and lower secondary education (from CM1 to Sixième); the second cycle (Cycle 4, the furthering cycle) covers all three of the remaining grades of collège (from Cinquième to Troisième). 

Unlike primary school, classes in collège are necessarily of one unique level. There is a teacher for each subject. The subjects vary according to the cycle:

  • In Sixième, during the consolidation cycle: French, Foreign language 1, Plastic arts, Musical education, Arts history, Sports and physic education, Civic and moral education, History-Geography, Sciences & Technology, Mathematics;
  • From Cinquième to Troisième, during the furthering cycle: French, Foreign language 1, Foreign language 2, Plastic arts, Musical education, Arts history, Sports and physic education, Civic and moral education, History-Geography, Life and earth Sciences, Physics-chemistry, Technology, Mathematics;

Some collèges offer specific training, with curricula compliant with those of other classes, but where teaching is organised under different conditions:

  • Classes with adapted times (music, theatre or dance options) allowing pupils to receive specialist teaching at the region's arts conservatory or a State-controlled music school;
  • European or international sections, characterised by reinforced teaching of a foreign modern language and teaching of certain disciplines in that language.

Organisation of the School Year

The main principles governing the drawing up of a holiday calendar are defined in article L521-1 of the Code of Education; they are the same for primary , lower secondary and upper secondary levels.

The academic year spreads over at least 36 weeks that are divided into 5 teaching periods, of comparable duration, that are separated by period of holidays. The learning time is divided into 3 quarters. A national school calendar is set by the Department of the National Education, Higher Education and Research for three years. This calendar may be adapted, under conditions that are set in a Decree, to take into account specific local situations.

Organisation of the School day and week

In accordance with article R 421-2 of the Education Code, the secondary education institutions (collèges and lycées) benefit from autonomy in organising the school time and the methods for school life, as well as in the use of allowances in terms of education hours made available to the institution in compliance with the obligations resulting from the regulatory hours. The organisation of the school day and week varies therefore from one school to another.

As a general rule of thumb, the teaching time is set on the whole days on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday while it is only a half-day on Wednesday. The organisation of the education is based on course time sequences of 55 minutes with a 5-minute interval between classes.

Since September 2016, for the first year of collège (Sixième, which is also the last year of the consolidation cycle after primary school), each collège has an allowance of 26 hours per week and class: 23 hours are allocated to the organisation of the common teachings, and 3 hours for the personalised support.

For the remaining years of collège (from Cinquième to Troisième, which represent the furthering cycle), each institution has an hourly endowment of 26 hours per week and class: 22 hours are allocated to the organization of the common teachings, and 4 hours for the interdisciplinary practical teachings.

Pupils also benefit from 10 annual hours of "class life" for the duration of their time at collège. According to B.O. no. 23 of 10 June 1999, these hours should be used to establish a dialogue with pupils, to favour their integration in the school and also prepare careers guidance.